EDF Health

In latest act of leadership, Cincinnati votes to cover the cost of replacing lead pipes for all residents

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

The Cincinnati City Council has voted unanimously to authorize Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) to pay 100% of the cost of replacing private lead service lines (LSLs) that bring drinking water to customers’ homes and other buildings. The Council’s December vote supports its larger strategy to “provide quality healthy housing for all income levels.” More broadly, the action is the latest act of leadership from the city as it works to address the environmental justice issues in its communities.

The ordinance gives GCWW the authority to help more customers pay to fully replace LSLs as the utility conducts infrastructure work on drinking water mains that connect to the lead pipes. Since 2017, the utility has subsidized up to 40% of a customer’s replacement cost through grants, and allowed customers to take a 10-year, interest-free loan.

Despite these incentives, the utility recognized that the cost of replacement was an obstacle for many customers, especially for low-income residents. About 60% of customers declined to participate, leaving them with partial LSL replacements that left lead pipes on private property in place. These partial replacements create higher short-term spikes in lead levels in drinking water and do not reliably reduce the risk of lead exposure over the long-term, as full replacement does. This is an important step for Cincinnati, as it ends LSL replacement practices that force customers to share in the costs that can lead to environmental justice and civil rights issues. Read More »

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Civil rights complaint draws attention to the discriminatory impacts of common lead pipe replacement practice

Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst, Environmental Health

This past Wednesday, Rhode Island’s Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP) led a coalition of groups in submitting a civil rights complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the Providence Water Supply Board (Providence Water), pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The administrative complaint highlights the discriminatory effects that can result when utilities require customers to share the cost of replacing the lead pipes that feed into their homes. The complaint was submitted as part of CLAP’s larger Lead-Free Water RI campaign, which calls “for an equitable, statewide plan for full, free lead pipe replacements for all Rhode Islanders.”

In the complaint, CLAP, South Providence Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, National Center for Healthy Housing, and EDF allege that the water utility’s process of replacing lead service lines (LSLs) — the lead pipes that run from the water main to the water meter in homes — has a disparate impact on Black, Latinx, and Native American residents in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and EPA’s implementing regulations. Read More »

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An environmental justice case study: how lead pipe replacement programs favor wealthier residents

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager 

Dr. Karen Baehler and her team at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy, with support from EDF, recently published a peer-reviewed case study highlighting the environmental justice issues that arise when water utilities require property owners to pay when they replace lead service lines (LSLs) that connect homes to the water main under the street. Our experience indicates that the vast majority of the 11,000+ water utilities in the U.S. engage in this practice. Based on the findings, these utilities need to reconsider their programs as they address the more than 9 million LSLs nationwide.  

The study found that Washington, DC residents in low-income neighborhoods between 2009-2018 were significantly less likely than those in wealthier neighborhoods to pay for a full LSL replacement and, therefore, had an increased risk of harm from lead exposure from a partial LSL replacement. 

The practice of requiring customers to pay for a full LSL replacement also raises civil rights concerns in cities like Washington, DC that have a history of racial segregation, redlining, and underinvestment in neighborhoods predominately comprised of people of color. If a utility that follows this practice also receives federal funding such as state revolving loan funds (SRFs), it may be violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While Washington, DC largely resolved the issue in 2019 by banning partial replacements and addressing “past partials” left in the ground, this scenario is replicated across the country.  Read More »

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State legislation requires replacement of ¼ of the country’s lead pipes

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

With the recent passage of excellent legislation in Illinois and New Jersey, one out of every four of the nation’s lead service lines (LSLs) is on a mandatory schedule to be fully replaced, with strict limits on partial replacement in the interim. These states now join Michigan in leading the way on replacing lead pipes– made all the more important because they have some of the highest numbers of LSLs in the country.

Both the Illinois and New Jersey laws[1] were the result of extensive negotiations between stakeholders and were passed with broad bipartisan support. We applaud the bill sponsors and the advocacy organizations that made it happen.

The most significant difference between the three state policies is their deadlines for utilities to fully replace the LSLs:

  • Illinois: range of 15 years to 50 years depending on a given utility’s number of LSLs.
  • New Jersey: 10-year deadline with an option to extend to 15 years
  • Michigan: 20-year deadline.

Read More »

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The fight to end lead poisoning in Rhode Island: A conversation with Laura Brion

The most common causes of lead poisoning in children in the US are lead-based paint and contaminated dust, which are mainly found in older housing. When present, lead pipes also present the single largest source of lead exposure through water. In Rhode Island, an estimated 80% of the housing was built before 1978, meaning it’s more likely to have lead-based paint hazards and lead pipes and put families, especially children, living in the homes at risk.

The Childhood Lead Action Project was founded in 1992 to take on this challenge, with the mission of eliminating childhood lead poisoning in Rhode Island through education, parent support, and advocacy. The organization does it all: workshops and educational outreach for a wide range of audiences, municipal and state-level advocacy to push proactive policies, grassroots campaigning, and more.

I sat down with Laura Brion, who started as a community organizer with the Childhood Lead Action Project and is now the Executive Director, to learn about her journey into the lead poisoning prevention world and what she sees ahead for her organization’s and community’s fight.   

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Read More »

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Lead pipes are in the news – Here’s why that matters

Sam Lovell, Communications Manager. 

“How many of you know, when you send your child to school, the fountain they’re drinking out of is not fed by a lead pipe?”

That stark question was posed by President Biden in a briefing following the announcement of the American Jobs Plan. The President’s historic infrastructure package includes $45 billion to fully replace lead pipes across the country. This has caused a surge of attention nationally on the problem of lead pipes, as administration officials and members of Congress voice support of the plan and local media outlets report on the implications of the investment.

And this attention is well-placed: across the country, an estimated 9.2 million lead service lines still provide water to US homes – putting children at risk of lead exposure and permanent harm to their brain development. While this has been an issue for far too long, this recent momentum – with the inclusion of funding in the American Jobs Plan and in several bills moving in both the House of Representatives and the Senate – is a promising sign that action is near.

Read More »

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